Toymakers from around the world gathered in New York this week for the 100th American International Toy Fair. Small manufacturers, like Tibbs, join toy giants like Hasbro and Mattel, hoping to hit on the next Tickle Me Elmo.
Easter is still two months away, but Santa's helpers have to start shopping in February to have their stores stocked for the December rush. One wrong move and your sold out of Furbies and stuck with a warehouse full of Hello Kitty calculators.
To top it off, there's trouble in Toyland — retail sales fell to $20.3 billion last year, down from $20.5. Major buyers Kmart Corp. and FAO Inc. have been hit hard by the economy, closing hundreds of stores and reducing orders.
Still, some 1,500 toymakers gathered with increasingly complicated products and new twists on old favorites.
Elmo's back, and now he dances the Funky Chicken, while "My Scene" Barbie basks in her celebrity status and SpongeBob SquarePants squeezes into a Speedo. And your bobble head doll collection might not be complete without the "Jesus Nodder."
Radio controlled cars have given birth to radio-controlled submarines and Hovercrafts. And every old fashion game has been re-jiggered — even spin-the-bottle, which now comes with a talking bottle.
In the world of licensing, last year's hottie, Ozzy Osbourne, is still breaking ground. He's now available in piggybank form. Now, he can corrupt children as he teaches them to save money.
New to the action hero figure world is Alan Cumming, who is depicted as Nightcrawler from the X-men sequel, due out this summer. Another comic book legend, the Hulk, is emblazoned on all manner of paraphernalia, including giant foam hands that emit groans and punching sounds.
The Wolf Files walked the floor of New York's Jacob Javits Convention Center, looking for some of the stranger offerings at this year's toy fair. Here's what turned up. Strange New Toys
Wireless Teddy Bears: Is Mommy working late? Is Daddy on a business trip? In the age of wireless communications comes Wabi Bear — a cuddly little Teddy that prepares your kid for the cellular age while breaking the news to him that you're not coming home for dinner.
A busy parent can just call an 800 number or visits the password-protected Web site, to send a personal message, lullaby, or bedtime story. For real rapscallions, you can even send a preventative, "Don't do that, Mommy's watching."
Edible Magic Markers: Children love to write on everything and they like to put strange things in their mouths. Now they can do both, with Foodoodlers — markers that let you write on your food.
Just color and eat. The markers contain a nontoxic, FDA-approved solution of water and propylene glycol. They come in all colors, and they let you write on sandwiches, vegetables, bagels (they're kosher) and, best of all, candy.
The World of Gross: If God didn't intend boys to be attracted to all things gross, he wouldn't have invented little sisters. This year, boys can turn to Rude Tunes Taz, a naughty new plaything that makes music with his armpit. There's also Bug Soap, which allows you to turn a rubber spider into creepy personal hygiene.
And for Harry Potter fans, there's "Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans" that include new flavors such as vomit, dirt and earwax. They taste just like the sound. Yum! If you doubt Harry's magic powers, wait until you see how well the ear wax sells.